Sakura, Sakura! Oakland County plants cherry tree garden in Novi to celebrate Japanese partnerships

This coming spring, when cherry blossoms start to bloom, Oakland County residents can enjoy their splendor at the MSU Tollgate Farm and Education Center in Novi, where 17 cherry trees have been planted in their new Sakura Garden.

This garden has been in the works for two years and is finally coming to—pardon the pun—fruition. The project is a partnership between the City of Novi, Michigan State University, the Japanese community of Oakland County, and the county itself.

“We’re really excited to put this project together to thank the Japanese companies that have invested in our community and also create another tourism attraction for the county,” says Irene Spanos, Director of Economic Development and Community Affairs for Oakland County.

Oakland County is known nationally for its foreign direct investment, with 1,000 foreign-owned firms from 39 countries having a presence in the county. Over 270 of those firms are Japanese-owned businesses, so the Sakura Garden is a way for Oakland County to show the Japanese community their appreciation to them for choosing Southeastern Michigan.

In addition to the cherry trees, the garden will also have a Japanese-style pavilion and is open to the public the same hours that Tollgate Farm is open. Spanos says she expects that when the cherry blossoms bloom and fall, many Japanese families and businesses will be seen picnicking in the garden, as this is a Japanese tradition during the national cherry blossom holiday in Japan.

The grand opening celebration of the Sakura Garden was held Friday, September 7 at Tollgate Farm. The event included Japanese-style entertainment, starting with drummers from the Great Lakes Taiko Center welcoming guests to the garden and culminating in the Japanese Society of the Detroit Women’s Club Koto players playing “Sakura, Sakura,” a traditional Japanese folk song welcoming spring, during the planting of the ceremonial tree. In addition to the entertainment refreshments, there was also a drawing for one free round-trip flight to Japan courtesy of Delta Air Lines. 

Speakers at this event included Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson, Novi Mayor Robert Gatt, Consul General of Japan Mitsuhiro Wada, Shiga Prefecture Governor Taizo Mikazuki, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, and the Director of the Michigan State University Extension Dr. Jeff Dwyer.

The grand opening reception of the Sakura Garden also launched the 50th anniversary celebration with Michigan’s sister state in Japan, the Shiga Prefecture. Last year a goodwill mission from Michigan was sent to Shiga to celebrate the anniversary of this relationship; now it is Michigan’s turn to host a mission from Shiga.

The Sakura Garden is now open to the public during Tollgate Farm’s normal hours. In the future the garden will also host events, including tours and different culinary and agricultural programming through MSU. There is also an endowment for the garden to ensure its continued care and maintenance. Donations to the endowment can be made through the MSU Extension Center.  

In the official ground-breaking and planting of the ceremonial tree photo (from left): Robert Gatt, Mayor of Novi; L. Brooks Patterson, Oakland County Executive; Taizo Mikazuki, Governor, Shiga Prefecture, Japan; Rick Snyder, Governor, State of Michigan; Dr. Jeff Dwyer, Director, Michigan State University Extension Novi; and Mitsuhiro Wada, Consul General of Japan. Photo by Vaughn Gurganian. Cherry blossom photo via public domain.